I closed my coverage of last issue saying that it would be nice to see these books be fun again, and while I don’t think this issue made any great strides, it’s nice to see X-Force with a sense of purpose.
VC’s Joe Caramagna (Letterer), Robert Gill (Artist), Guru-eFX (Color Artist), Tom Muller (Design), Benjamin Percy (Writer)
August 11, 2021
A large section of this issue centers around the story of Doctor Jackson Bloodroot, a character who is notable here for two things. First, “Bloodroot” is a fantastic comic-book name, right up there with Dr. Killian Devo. Second, the use of Jackson as his first name, followed by his subsequent transformation over the course of this issue into a sort of plant-based creature makes it clear that what we have here is an ersatz Jason Woodrue, AKA The Floronic Man over at the Distinguished Competition. This is another one of those old-school comic book tricks that delights me—there are times when it is overdone, certainly, but plucking something like this to play opposite Man-Slaughter (the altered Man-Thing from earlier this arc, sporting a name that’s as bad as Bloodroot is good) lets the creative team have a little fun playing in a Swamp Thing kind of sandbox, while still crafting a story that’s uniquely tied to the concepts and themes being explored with mutant-based stories. That’s just fun!
It feels almost repetitive to assert that Beast remains the worst, but he does nonetheless. His actions here are especially interesting to me, as he cuts off Man-Slaughter’s fingers to prove a point. It’s an absurd, almost comical level of callousness on his part, and a complete disregard for the living, sentient being he and Sage had thus far been interrogating. I’ve joked before about how Beast these days is far more ethically compromised than his “evil” Age of Apocalypse counterpart, but there are moments like this scene that really leave me wondering if Dark Beast has once again done a switcheroo, enough that I double-checked, and was reminded that he died very shortly before the start of House of X and Powers of X, in the Rosenberg-penned Uncanny X-Men #20. Death, of course, isn’t exactly final in comics (and even less so in the Krakoan era), but his was particularly brutal and succinct—Magik decapitated him with a portal. If this is him pulling the same stunt he pulled in the 90s, it would be an impressive feat, and if it’s not, then I reiterate my prior stance that someone needs to deal with Hank. Dude is out of control!
Art duties this time around are handled entirely by Robert Gill on the interiors, with only a Joshua Cassara/Dean White cover. Gill had a couple of pages in the prior issue that I neglected to mention, and for that I offer an apology—here he has the reins of the entire issue, and his style feels as though it hews a bit closer to Jan Bazaldua’s than Cassara’s. That’s not necessarily a detraction, and if the shift is at all jarring, it’s definitely smoothed out by the continuing presence of Guru-eFX on colors. Compositionally he’s not bad—some of the pages turned in here aren’t much to write home about, but there’s one where he uses Krakoa’s roots as panel delineations, and while it’s certainly not groundbreaking (heh), it’s used well. Any further questions about whether Gill can meet the demands of this book are roundly answered by a full page scene depicting Dr. Bloodroot in the full throes of a body horror transformation. It’s grisly work, and executed extremely well, as a large, floral-lined void opens in Bloodroot’s midsection, and vines erupt where intestines should have been, to ensnare victims. Those body horror elements have been hit-or-miss with readers, but I’ve found from early on that they really fit the tone of the stories being told in X-Force, and I’m glad to see artists being tapped that are able to continue those themes.
That’s not to say there aren’t little failures here and there; I hate to be a stickler about continuity-based details, because they don’t really matter, but there’s one thing about this issue that jumped out at me. My understanding of Fred Dukes’ power set is that he cannot be moved unless he wishes it; owing to his ability to manipulate the gravity around himself. I do not know if this was something the script called for, or an artistic flourish, but either way, in this issue, he is hauled bodily from behind the Green Lagoon’s bar by some plant-infested attackers. It’s clearly played as a visual gag, but in doing so it neglects an understanding of the character. Dukes’ power set has not been used much lately, it’s true, but it’s considerable nonetheless; it takes the strongest characters in the entirety of Marvel fiction to move him, and the list of characters who have accomplished that prior to this issue can be numbered on one hand. Again, this is not a thing that matters in the long run, and will be an oversight that will likely simply be forgotten, but it’s a lack of attention to detail, and it runs the risk of taking the reader out of the story.
The Krakoan teaser text at the end of this issue reads “THE CEREBRO SWORD,” to which I say, finally. The end of Bloodroot in this issue seems to be putting to rest some of the telefloronic plot threads here in the short term, and given how long the spectre of Mikhail Rasputin has been holding Xavier’s own textual Sword of Damocles over X-Force’s head, I’m eager to see some actual plot progression on that front.